When Was the First Official General Election Debate?

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The first official presidential general election debate was held on September 26, 1960. It was televised and featured the Democratic presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy, and the Republican presidential candidate, Richard M. Nixon. It was the first of what became a standard practice of presidential candidates meeting for a public, televised debate in a standard format. In previous presidential elections there were informal debates between primary candidates, including radio broadcasts in specific states. There are also a few recorded instances of senatorial and other candidates debating publicly.

During this initial series televised debates, the younger and more charismatic John F. Kennedy appeared healthier and more vibrant than the older Nixon, who had recently been released from the hospital and appeared slightly disheveled. As a result, television viewers favored Kennedy as the winner of the debate, while on the other hand radio listeners said that Nixon's performance was better. Kennedy went on to win the election, and Nixon refused to take part in televised debates during his subsequent presidential campaigns.